Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Historical Glimpse

Whether or not I end up in jail — making little rocks out of big ones, as the saying goes — remains to be seen, but I'm going to throw caution to the wind and, in addition to some of my own photos, will include a few I've either scanned from books or are pictures I've taken of other photos, etc. In the case of the latter, on the South Side of Pittsburgh where J&L's actual "steel-making" went on (the open hearth furnaces, later one or more electric arc furnaces) there's a series of plaques describing in some detail what used to be there. A few of the plaques explain the process of making steel (from beginning to end); one is a blue-line that shows the entire plant (both sides of the river), and another is a photograph of one of the open hearth departments. I have my own blue-line of the furnace alley (not included with this post) though it's not from what's on the plaque but a scan of something I was sent from an MCRR VP, upon request, about twenty or so years ago. I will have to rescan this but it shows the utter complexity of the trackage in the alley, which is what my father had to deal with as the yardmaster in there until he'd achieved the seniority that enabled him to avoid it. The representation here of the alley is a much less detailed one.

For those interested and so inclined, I highly recommend a rather lengthy book written by John P. Hoerr, published in 1988 by the University of Pittsburgh Press and entitled, And The Wolf Finally Came: The Decline of the American Steel Industry. The book is 620 pages of text that describes, in perhaps more detail than the casual reader might wish to know, what happened between the 1950s and late 70s in the American steel industry and, in Mr. Hoerr's opinion, why it might have happened. A great amount of the book deals with the back-and-forth between the USWA (United Steelworkers of America) and the various integrated steel corporations, with most of the emphasis on what used to be called "Big Steel," which was of course United States Steel. Mr. Hoerr uses USS (as opposed to J&L [LTV], Bethlehem Steel, Republic, Inland Steel, and others) as his point of focus since it might be said that whatever was going on in the industry probably went on there at first, or if not so, then had the most repercussions there that might later have filtered down to the less notorious or well known companies. Mr. Hoerr's book is a narrative history, thus one is allowed into the minds of both union and industry leaders as well as other players and local (Pittsburgh and McKeesport, PA) individuals. We read these various people tell their stories and give their versions of what happened and it's at once extremely fascinating if not, in the end, a little distressing and sad.

While on the subject of books, another offering from the same publisher is a volume called Big Steel: The First Century of the United States Steel Corporation 1901-2001, written by Kenneth Warren and published in 2001. As the title indicates, this is a corporate history and as such is a bit more sterile than John Hoerr's book and is rife with facts, figures, and charts (which seem to accumulate in dizzying fashion). The text itself is chock-a-block with statistics and as a result the reading is a little dry, to say the least. But if one is tolerant and patient one might begin to get hold of an understanding of the huge scale, costs, and significance of this (or any) integrated steel operation.

In the future I'll post some other photos I've taken over the recent years of the USS Edgar Thompson works, located in the Braddock section of Pittsburgh and still in operation. Along with these I'll add a few of the now derelict Carrie Furnaces, across the Monongahela River (down river) from Homestead. I'll also include excerpts from some autobiographical writing regarding own my summer in the MCRR's carshop and, I can only hope, get back to posting photos of my modeling work.

For now, though — a brief trip back in time:

From the plaque on the South Side of Pittsburgh placed by Rivers Of Steel Archives

Aerial view of J&L, 1952: Rivers Of Steel Archives

Blue-line of the Eliza furnaces ("the alley") at J&L; Rivers Of Steel Archives. Note: the furnaces themselves are indicated by P1, P2, and so on. The High Grade is immediately beneath Second Avenue (though in reality it was above street level and behind a large stone wall). At the bottom of the drawing is the Monongahela River; the tracks running parallel to it are those of the Low Grade. At left, the tracks curving toward the river lead to the two bridges mentioned on the plaque above (photo of those are at the end of this post).

Eliza furnaces, date unknown, but probably in the mid-60s (source unknown). The two tracks running along the bottom of the photo are the B&O mains from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh and on to Chicago; we are looking west. The commuter cars here are Budd cars which ran from McKeesport into downtown Pittsburgh. Second Avenue is between these tracks and the furnaces, below in this photo and out of sight. The structure between the Budd cars and the furnaces is the stock house.
Second Avenue looking east, 1948. Middle photo is the B&O mains; lower right is the hot strip mill complex, new in 1937. Middle right are the MCRR main offices on the High Grade; behind them the stock house and the six blast furnaces. Pittsburgh Press photo.

J&L open hearth department #2, date unknown. Left background are the railroad bridges and the Eliza furnaces across the river. The gondolas pictured here were known as X-cars and belonged to the MCRR. I worked on these types of cars in the carshop, summer of 1974. Tracks below the overpass were the P&LE RR (owned then by the New York Central). Rivers Of Steel Archives.

MCRR yard known at "the Eastern," 1952. This is one of a dozen or so photos my father took on the railroad from the Eastern's yard office.

MCRR carshop; winter, 1987. There was no activity in the shop since it was a weekend. The X-cars are ready to be attended to Monday morning. These are the kinds of cars I worked on in 1974. They were the workhorses of the railroad and were ubiquitous — and as a result took constant pounding and abuse. Author photo.

Carshop, March 2007. Top of US Steel building in downtown Pittsburgh at far left. The Eliza furnaces would have been a thousand yards or so west (in the direction of downtown). Author photo.

Carshop, 2007. The slightly elevated area at the right had been utilized as a general junk yard of parts: wheels, wheelsets, couplers, brake parts and pipes, and piles of ladder stiles and grab irons. When we might have to replace one of those in the course of fixing a car, I'd have to trudge up the little hill, pick through the mounds of junk, and find something that I felt could be used. Often I'd have to do a little blacksmithing on my own to make the part serviceable. I would heat, with my torch, the ladder stile or grab iron and then bang away at it with a hammer on an anvil. My great grandfather, Adam Haenel, had done similar work for a living. Author photo.

Low Grade, 2007. This single track is all that remains of the MCRR's Low Grade. The line is owned and operated now by an entity I don't know the name of. I don't know where it originates, where it terminates, or what its purpose is. Author photo.

MonCon railroad bridges, 2008. I'm not positive but believe the bridge at the right was the railroad bridge (which now carries auto and truck traffic) and the one at left was the hot metal bridge, now a foot and bicycle bridge. The photo looks north across the Mon River. The Eliza furnaces would have been just to the right of the lower bridge; downtown Pittsburgh is out of the photo to the left. Author photo.

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